Biggest journalistic hoax concerning test scores yet: In today’s first post, we discussed the “pseudo-journalism” which is so common at the New York Times.
For a truly stunning example, consider the way Nicholas Kristof started yesterday’s column.
Life-forms like Kristof have spent many years running down American students and their public school teachers. Some journalists do this out of sheer ignorance. Others do it because they want to help their upper-class minders and masters privatize public schools.
Yesterday, Kristof created one of the most remarkable incidents yet. As journalistic deception goes, we’d call this passage jaw-dropping:
KRISTOF (4/26/15): I am afraid you’re eligible to read this column only if you can answer this question faced by eighth graders around the world:That’s the way Kristof started yesterday’s column. Before he was done, he offered two similar examples of Johnny’s astonishing dumbness.
What is the sum of the three consecutive whole numbers with 2n as the middle number?
More than three-quarters of South Korean kids answered correctly (it is B). Only 37 percent of American kids were correct, lagging their peers from Iran, Indonesia and Ghana.
We know Johnny can’t read; it appears that Johnny is even worse at counting.
For simplicity sake, let’s stick to this one example. In it, Kristof’s reflexive dishonesty reached an astounding new level.
Reading that example, a reader may get the impression that American students perform more poorly in math than their counterparts from Iran, Indonesia and Ghana, which are clearly meant to be seen as deeply embarrassing countries.
As Kristof surely knows, that impression would be grossly inaccurate. The test in question is the 2011 TIMSS, one of the two major international test programs in which most developed nations take part.
Along with a few other Asian tigers, Singapore tends to outscore the world on these international tests. But American kids scored fairly well on the 2011 TIMSS as compared with everyone else. Here are the relevant scores, with endlessly-ballyhooed Finland included as a point of comparison:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, TIMSS, 2011For all average scores, click here.
United States 509
Eighth-graders in Iran, Indonesia and Ghana didn’t perform nearly as well as their counterparts in the United States. How did Kristof manage to tie that false impression to his ugly, stupid remark about the way pitiful Johnny can’t read or even count?
Simple! Kristof links to this site, where the TIMSS has posted 88 questions from the 2011 math test which won’t be used again.
In a remarkably deceptive way, Kristof cherry-picked through that long list of questions. The question about the three consecutive numbers is, quite literally, the question on which American kids did least well out of all 88 as compared to the rest of the world.
Let’s make sure you understand that! Quite deliberately, Kristof chose the least representative example out of 88 possible items.
He led his column with that unrepresentative example. He then pretended it shows that stupid-ass Johnny “can’t count.”
Assuming the TIMSS data are accurate, why did American kids perform so poorly on that one question? We have no idea. We also can’t explain why American kids outscored every nation, including Singapore, on the question called “Median number of staff members.” But, by God, they did!
In fact, they outperformed all nations, including Singapore, by a wide margin on that one question. An equally dishonest person could cherry-pick that one example to advance the false impression that U.S. eighth-graders lead the world in math.
Why in the world would a life-form like Kristof deceive his readers this way? Beyond that, what makes him so eager to denigrate American kids?
We can’t answer that question, but several commenters thought they could. They said Kristof had once again cast himself in the role of tool to his corporate masters, who want to destroy teachers unions and privatize public schools:
COMMENTER FROM NEW JERSEY: Mr. Kristof has been consistently anti-teacher, anti-public schools. He frequently trots out misleading information, perhaps out of ignorance (he has no expertise or skin in the game in education), or perhaps because he has a vested interest in privately funded education.Other comments drifted along that line. Meanwhile, quite a few comments show the things people end up believing when they’re subjected to a steady stream of disinformation from Kristof and his merry band of gong-show propagandists:
“As long as the US has teachers that do not have a master’s degree in the subjects they are teaching—especially in math and natural sciences—we’ll never catch up to other advanced nations,” one gloomy reader said.
“I could not agree more with Mr. Kristof about our nation’s poor performance in math. It starts early,” another reader wrote.
“The scandal is not that students in Iran, Indonesia, Ghana...would perform better on these questions than their counterparts in the US,” another reader wrote, possibly having swallowed the false impression. “There are bright individuals everywhere and nothing to say that Americans have a birthright to superior scores.”
The readers shown below agreed—it’s done much better Over There! In a slightly rational world, these would be seen as embarrassing comments:
COMMENTER FROM ISRAEL: The key is having good math teachers. Unfortunately those who are capable of doing so can usually find more lucrative jobs so often the math teachers are second tier (except of course for countries like Finland which pay teachers well). If you want students to succeed, then make sure there are good teachers and pay for them.Please. On the test to which Kristof referred, American kids basically matched their counterparts in Finland. They outscored glorious Sweden by 25 points, with its average score of 484.
COMMENTER FROM MICHIGAN: As for the main point of this column, as a teacher I share your dismay. I truly think our system needs strong structural reform, and we should probably look to the Swedish model.
COMMENTER FROM VIRGINIA: I remember a statement by Larry King decades ago on his show where the pitfalls of the US public school system compared the ones in other advanced nations were described, including discipline. King said that in Germany teachers were so greatly respected that their pupils addressed them as doctors. Well, heck, I yelled at the TV, that's because a large number of them have Ph.D. in the subject they teach.
Germany didn't take part on the eighth grade level in 2011. It did participate at the fourth grade level, where its kids were outscored by kids from the U.S.
(Other scores in Grade 8 math: Great Britain 507, Australia 505, Italy 498, Norway 475.)
“We know Johnny can’t read; it appears that Johnny is even worse at counting!” It’s hard to imagine why someone like Kristof would want to write such a thing. But such deceptions are completely routine within our upper-end press corps. This has been the reliable norm for a very long time.
We know of no topic on which Americans are so persistently disinformed by American pseudo-journalists. Yesterday, Kristof took the dissembling and the deception to a remarkable low.
Kristof seems to get stranger by the month. As Shakespeare thoughtfully asked, “On what meat doth this our Times pseudo-journalist feed?”
Just for the record: The other examples Kristof presents are also cherry-picked. He had to sift through 88 examples to mislead his readers so.